On 16 January, as the evening fog swirled through the tree-lined avenues of the Capital, a prime cultural destination hosted the screening of a documentary titled Mlechha Sanhaara — India’s First Kalki Project. The film held up a mirror to modern India and dared the nation to face its demons. But it may have passed you by. That’s because the documentary dealt with a deeply disturbing issue — naturally for the victims but also for the direct and indirect perpetrators. That issue is the fact that atrocities on Dalit communities in the country are rampant, unabated and on the rise.
The film argues that India’s Brahmanical religious texts describe those who do not adhere to such principles as Mlechha — the non-Aryan, impure, dirty barbarians. In fact, it says, according to this belief system, Kalki — the 10th incarnation of Lord Vishnu — would one day come riding a white horse, annihilate all Mlechhas and establish Vedic-Brahmanical supremacy in the world.
The film, in Odia with subtitles in English, lays bare how one may discard this religious prophecy as a fanatical fantasy, and yet some kind of Kalki or the other has always been let loose on the so-called Mlechhas in India.
Among them, the Dalits have been facing untold violence — both direct and structural — right from the beginning.
In the context of Odisha, the Kandhamal carnage in 2008 is a stern reminder of Mlechha Sanhaara being in operation always and everywhere. In search of the contours of India’s Kalki Project,the documentary, directed by Subrat Kumar Sahu, travels through various villages in Odisha’s Bolangir district and narrates the infamous 2012 Lathore carnage and its consequences — a ravaged village and villagers bereft of even basic necessities.
The film weaves together several narratives, each bearing testimony to the crimes committed against Dalits by the feudal and ‘capitalist’ forces in these villages. Among these narratives is that of Rabi Bag of the Kuimunda village and that of a Dalit woman of Dhandamunda village whose colony was vandalised in May 2012. The film is strewn with numerous heart-wrenching recollections, including poisoning of tubewells, stone pelting (Amabahali village, 10 October 2011) and vandalising of Dalit villages.
Furthermore, this film does not flinch from an honest presentation of how the administration aids these crimes. Through a series of confrontations with government officials, Sahu unravels the conspiratorial nature of these crimes.
With its strong condemnation of the casteist outlook of the State, the film lays bare the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of the forces that sustain it. One of the notable devices that the director uses is the recurrent image of men ploughing and singing a short, lilting song — “Not from anywhere else, we are born from the mother’s womb. That the priests are lying, we know it well”.
Despite being 125 minutes long, the documentary easily manages to dodge triteness through its realistic portrayal of incidents. Sahu, with his audacious and honest presentation of the daily ordeals faced by Dalits, strips the State’s façade and calls for the need for an alternative hegemony, where the notion of democracy is not merely relegated to urban India.
Although taking up this topic and talking about it ‘too much’ may be anathema to a major section of society, including the mainstream media, there’s a reason we must. That reason, translated from Latin, is: The darkest places in Hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crises.